Ferrari once said its 512 BB was the fastest car in the world, but as our road test proved, it wasn't capable of reaching its claimed 188mph top speed

In the 6 May 1978 issue, Autocar road tested the Ferrari 512 BB, claimed at the time to be the fastest road car in production.

Our testers were slightly disappointed to tease a top speed of only 163mph from the Berlinetta Boxer’s 4942cc, 12-cylinder engine, compared with Maranello’s claimed 188mph.

“Try as we might, we could persuade no more than a mean 163mph at 5975rpm from the beast, while the car’s electronic speedometer read 174mph,” they reported.

The performance generated a torrent of responses from readers, some of whom shared Autocar’s disappointment at the maximum speed its testers had achieved.

David Steinberg of London wrote: “I own a 1974 365 GT4 BB and have seen 195mph on the clock on the Stuttgart-Basel motorway at 6am.”

GH Jones of Dollis Hill reckoned we’d made a mistake: “I fail to believe this figure of 163mph is correct, as other road tests show figures of 197 and 188mph. You state the acceleration from 0-60mph as 6.2sec, whereas another magazine says it takes only 5.1sec. How can your figures vary so much?”

Autocar’s road test team responded thus: “Autocar is the first British motoring magazine to measure a Boxer’s performance accurately – which among other things means attaching an accurate speed measuring device to the test car – and not to rely on the car’s own speedometer, which above 150mph can be grossly optimistic.

“What one may see ‘on the clock’ in one direction is, with the greatest of respect, neither here nor there. There is not the slightest doubt about the performance we measured; it is what that particular car was capable of in the condition in which it was presented to us.

“That said, was that particular 512 BB au point? On hearing our results, Maranello Concessionaires suspect that it was not. They propose to check the car thoroughly and return it to Autocar for retest, which we shall perform.”

The test team laid bare their workings, proving that the Ferrari as tested could not have hit the hallowed speed: “To reach the magic 188mph, with the car geared as it is at 27.28mph per 1000rpm and not allowing for any possible tyre growth, the engine would have to rev at 6900rpm, well past the 6200rpm peak. Unless the power curve is absolutely flat, the gearing would seem to indicate a lower top speed than is claimed.”

Autocar nevertheless held the £26,104 car in high regard: “If the ultimate top-end performance is not within the Berlinetta Boxer’s grasp, it is more than compensated for by its flexibility. Snap open the throttle from 2000rpm upwards in any gear and the car surges forward.

“Ferrari has done a magnificent job but it would be nice to be able to say, if only for the Guinness Book of Records, that the Boxer truly is the fastest production car in the world.”

Previous Throwback Thursdays

4 March 1899 - Steam, electric or combustion engine? 

14 February 1913 - 100 miles in one hour

8 April 1916 - Making post-war predictions

25 March 1922 - Caterpillar tracks are the future

2 February 1934 - The ethics of skidding

21 January 1949 - Tidier tails

24 April 1959 - Aston Martin enters Formula 1

27 January 1961 - Ford Thunderbird road test

6 May 1971 - Driving Ford's Supervan

19 January 1980 - Talbot Horizon road test

13 February 1982 - 4x4s tested on the farm 

17 April 1985 - Secrets of a lost British supercar

28 April 1993 - BL's unseen concepts

16 March 1994 - Bentley's Concept Java

16 April 1997 - When Bugatti bit the dust

4 April 2001 - 0-260mph in 6.0 seconds

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Comments
5

14 May 2015
While undeniably good looking , being a car obsessed teenager in the 80's my recollection was that the car had an iffy gear change and due to the position of its engine , a high centre of gravity. It never drove as well it looked , it's handling being a bit odd ? Or is my memory fading ? The big flat 12 mid engined Ferrari including the testarossa were always over-rated ?

14 May 2015
I'm pretty sure the original Countach had a claimed top speed of 193mph, but in reality got nowhere near that. I'm not sure customer E-Types were capable of 150mph either. In the 60's and 70's manufacturers simply made up their performance and power figures to agree with whatever the marketing men said they should be.

 

15 May 2015
And now all the controversy is about how users can't match the manufacturers economy claims. How times have changed.

15 May 2015
That thing is BEAUTIFUL.

15 May 2015
jason_recliner wrote:

That thing is BEAUTIFUL.

I agree, much nicer than the 308 and the other peoples favourite, the 355. Certainly the best looking mid engined Ferrari, but proper Ferraris have the engine in the front.

 

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